Thursday afternoon, I sat in with Northern Illinois men's basketball coach Ricardo Patton to touch base on a variety of topics, including changes to the Mid-American Conference basketball tournaments and the status of sophomore guard Jake Anderson, who declared for the NBA Draft but has the option of returning to school, which must be made by Monday.
This is part one of two. The second part, a little review of last season and some goals for next season, plus how Patton views incoming guard Tony Nixon's role for next season, will be posted tommorow.
John Sahly: I just wanted to start with your thoughts on the changes to the MAC basketball tournaments. (First-round games are at campus sites for the men and women and eight teams advance to Cleveland for the finals for the next two seasons.)
Patton: I think initially, that there was some resistance, particularly from the coaches. Certainly we voted unanimously to remain 12 strong in Cleveland. But I think it's somewhat a byproduct of the economic times that we're in as much as anything. So, obviously if you don't get a first-round bye, even in Cleveland, the end result is the same. You go home. I think it also really makes a big difference where you finish late in the season in your league to maybe get a home-court advantage.
JS: Does it give too much of an advantage to the higher seed to have that first-round game at home?
RP: I think it's certainly an advantage, but it also serves as an incentive to play well during the regular season.
JS: With the economy factored in, what is your ideal solution? Are you happy with the changes or would you have done something else?
RP: Oh I think there's no question that, again, the coaches' vote was to remain in Cleveland. Our tournament was making money. It was a moneymaker. In my mind, it made sense to continue to have it in Cleveland with all 12 teams.
JS: Did gender factor into this?
RP: There's no question that it was part of the conversation, in reference to what would be equitable for the women in terms of tournament site. (Note: there was some chatter about moving the women's conference tournament to Toledo and my personal opinion is that it will end up there in two years.)
On MAC basketball...
JS: With a new commissioner in the MAC (Jon Steinbrecher), what do you want to see him do to raise the profile of MAC basketball?
RP: I think, first and foremost, raising the profile of any conference falls mostly on the coaches in terms of their recruiting, in terms of the marquee players in their programs, raising the fan interest. If we can all get better individually in our programs, then collectively as a conference, we're going to improve the status of the league.
JS: Are games on TV, those marquee match-ups that you speak of, are you trying to push for those types of things?
RP: Yeah. I think if you look at the [ESPNU] BracketBuster, that was the intent of that. I think the teams that have gone into those games with good records, against a similar opponent, those have been great for our conference. I think we have to continue to do well in BracketBuster but also look for other venues to get our product on national television.
On Jake Anderson...
JS: When's the last time you talked to Jake?
RP: Two days ago.
JS: How did that conversation go?
RP: It went well. We talked about summer school. We talked about the draft and the process of him taking his name out. We'll just see what happens.
JS: Do you expect him to be back here on Monday?
RP: You know, the thing that I've learned over the years is to always expect the unexpected.
JS: Care to elaborate on that?
RP: I only say that because he hasn't said that to me. So, we'll just have to wait and see. ... I don't believe he had any workouts. And I see where the guard from Villanova (Scottie Reynolds) took his name out yesterday. He was a pretty good player. From all indications, Jake didn't have any workouts with any teams, and so you would expect if that's the case that a guy would realize that he probably ought to come back to school.
I will tell you this: For me, Jake's decision should be more about his long-term future, not just about basketball, but about life. That's what I've talked to him more about, is life.